A sprain damages a ligament. Ligaments — a firm, fibrous band of tissue — connects two bones across a joint. Ligaments cross all of the joints in the body. A sprain occurs when a force pushes the bones of a joint apart and injures the ligament. Sprain ratings reflect severity:
- Grades 1 and 2 — Damage the structure but leaves the ligament intact
- Grade 3 — Completely tears the ligament; sometimes called torn or ruptured ligaments
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Sprains can occur with everyday activities, but they are more common during sports. Sports with high speeds and risk of collision have an increased risk of sprains, like:
Factors that may increase your risk of a sprain include:
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of flexibility
- Coordination and balance difficulties
- Sudden change in direction
- Impact with object or other person
- Misstep that causes a sudden strain at a joint
To reduce your chance of getting a sprain:
- Use proper techniques to help avoid awkward motions and missteps
- Participate in flexibility, strength and fitness training
Signs of a Sprain
Symptoms of a sprain may include:
- Pain immediately after the sprain — without treatment, the pain becomes worse over the next 24 hours
- A popping sound
- Local swelling, often within minutes
- Trouble moving the joint
- Increased pain when putting pressure on the injured area
The most common joints involved include:
- Thumb or finger joints
Your doctor will diagnose the damage with X-rays and/or MRI scans.
How to Treat a Sprain
Treatment will depend on the joint involved and the extent of the injury. Options include:
- Elevating limb to decrease swelling
- Ice and heat
- Pain medication
After your sprain heals, rehabilitation exercises may help to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion.
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.